our family advent nightly devotionals

This year our family advent season devotional time has more fullness to it. JJ is almost four years old and Eli is two and a half. So now we have two little men who are listening attentively and taking in this great story. Noah just turned one, and so he is often already in bed by the time we do the Advent.

This is a picture of  our Advent Calendar that we use every night. Our boys get so excited and focused when we pull the Advent Calendar out.

There are basically four elements to what we do in our advent devotional time: Bible-story-telling; Prayer; Singing; and Surprise treat.

  • Bible-story-telling. During this time, we point out which day we are on and how close we are getting to Christmas. I then tell about 5-7 minutes worth of the Christmas story using one of their Children’s Bibles. Each night we will emphasize one main point that we are expecting them to remember. (Last night was Immanuel which means “God with us.”) Also during this time, I will ask questions to make sure they are remembering what we have taught from night to night. It is incredible how engaged they can be on the details of the Christmas story. They love the little things like baby Jesus was in a manger with cows and sheep instead of in a house with a bed.
  • Prayer. After the Bible, we all pray. During this time, we ask JJ and Eli each to pray. They can pray whatever they feel like praying. But during this time, we do instruct them on how to pray about the things we have just learned. It is overwhelming to hear a 2 or 3 year old pray on his own and thank God for sending Jesus to be with us. I pray last so they can see how I pray.
  • Singing. During this time, we sing the same two songs every night. (We do this so they can learn the songs and the words. We also do the same songs throughout the year whatever the theme is.) The boys love this. They both sing so loudly and proudly. This Christmas season we are singing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and “Away in a Manger.”
  • Surprise Treat. The last thing we do is give the boys a surprise. They are then allowed to get up and look behind the number corresponding to the day’s date. Valeria has a wrapped treat there each night (usually some M&Ms or Skittles). This is really exciting to our boys.  And then we are finished until the next night.

It is such a small simple thing to do this Advent Devotional each night. I built the Wooden Calendar House thing for very minimal cost. But yet our boys enjoy it so much. They are happy and that makes us happy. Not to mention, that they are really learning a lot about the Christmas story.

I also want to point out that during the Christmas season there are many nights when we have guests over at the boys bed-time. We do not let that stop us from doing it. We welcome others to join in. The boys get such a thrill to do the Advent Devotional including all the singing and praying while many of their “friends” observe and participate.

Valeria and I feel so undeserving to have the opportunity to raise the boys to know Jesus.

Christmas is special- even more special for believers!

I recently wrote a little article for our church newsletter. I wanted to draw out the truth that while Christmas is a very special holiday for most people, it should be even more special for those who are believers in Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ the Lord is the Savior! That truth being understood, trusted in, depended on, and treasured by faith is what takes this Christmas holiday to the next level and makes it so special.”

“While parties and presents and food and family are a very rich blessing, they are small and insignificant in comparison to the gift and joy that forgiveness, love and new life bring from God.”

You can read the entire short little article here.

 

Operation Christmas Child – Success!

This past Sunday evening our church had a special prayer service as we brought our Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes.

What OCC is is a way to get Christmas presents to kids in third world countries. People here stuff a shoebox with toys and gifts and then pray for the child who will receive it. Each box given must include $7 to pay for the shipping and handling.

This year was the second year (since I have been here, 2003) that our church has participated in the OCC shoebox collection. Last year we gave a total of 28 shoeboxes.

So when it came time to start preparing for this year’s OCC shoebox collection, I got a little zealous and set us the high goal of 100 shoeboxes. That is nearly 4 times as many as we gave last year.

Well for about the past month we have talked it up, shown videos, passed out boxes and pamphlets and literature about the awesome opportunity to participate in “giving this Christmas away.” I have told our church countless times what Jesus says “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.” And even as our church is embracing giving more and more, we still heard people saying that there is no way we will reach our goal of 100 shoeboxes.

Well finally Sunday night, November 20th came, and it was time for folks to bring their shoeboxes. In the middle of our regular Sunday evening service, we had a time for people to come forward with their box as an offering and pray silently for the child who will receive it. It was really nice just to watch this happen. At the end of that time, I came forward and prayed for all of it. There was  big pile of shoeboxes at the altar of our church. Then we continued on with our service: singing, praying, and hearing God’s Word preached.

Then the end came, I stepped up and counted the box… 91 OCC shoeboxes! 91!

I was shocked! I was so happy that our people had given 91 christmas presents away. I was thrilled to think of 91 children getting a gift. I was proud to think that we gave away $637 of our own money.

But I was also bummed that we didn’ t reach our goal. We were 9 boxes short. When I told our people, they were all shocked too. Possessing a puzzled simultaneous joy and discouragement look.

Then all of a sudden a lady walked in the back door carrying 1 box. So I said, “Wait, there’s one. That makes 92.” Then another lady raised her hand and said “I got five right here, I wasnt able to bring them forward yet.” That made 97! Then another guy raised his hand and said “I got 2 more right here.” Then another young girl had 2 more. Then another couple had 2 more.

It was amazing! Without any hesitation, the whole church celebrated with clapping and cheering. Praise God!

All in all we had given 104 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I was so happy. I was so proud to be the pastor of these people. And I was so proud and humbled to be a child of God.

Now, I realize 100 is not all that many. And I realize there are many, many kids who still will not get a Christmas present this year. And I realize that it wasn’t 300, or 500, or 1,000 shoeboxes.

But it was 104. And it was 4 times as many as the year before. And it was our church reaching a big goal! And it was Christ’s church becoming more and more like him in the fact that we were blessed by giving!

May God get the glory for His work in us! Who knows what our goal may be next year!

the meaning of marriage

I recently began reading Tim Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage.

In the Introduction, Keller writes “the primary goal (of the book) is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.”

He also concludes the Introduction with:

“Unless you’re able to look at marriage through the lens of Scripture instead of through your own fears or romanticism, through your particular experience, or through your culture’s narrow perspectives, you won’t be able to to make intelligent decisions about your own marital future.”

———-

I am really enjoying the book so far. If you are married, or one day hope to be, and you would like to understand marriage even better and be better at loving your spouse, then I would love for you to get a copy and read it along with me. I am just getting started. E-mail me if you are reading it too.

sickened by it

Over the past few months, the book of Daniel has captivated me. Themes like the faithfulness of Daniel, the worldliness of kings and kingdoms, the severity of punishments, the sovereignty of God, the power of God, etc have been challenging me and growing me in my understanding.

Well at the end of chapter 8 of Daniel after Daniel has just seen a vision about the future suffering and evil that would come upon his people, Daniel makes this statement: “And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days.” (8:27)

And this lead me to thinking about the expressions “I was sickened by it” or “that makes me sick to my stomach.” And I am sure that most everyone is familiar with expressions like those, with what they mean and when and why they are said.

Daniel and his people were Jews. They were God’s people. And they were in exile and had been taken captive by the Babylonians and Medes and Persians. Things were bad already for Daniel and his people. But for the first 8 chapters of Daniel, Daniel and his peers have demonstrated an incredible steadfastness and faithfulness to God in the face of the trials. So Daniels vision only adds to the difficulty. Things are going to get worse. The thought of more trials, more evil, more deaths, more truth being thrown to the ground (8:12) sounds awful to Daniel. That is because those things are awful. And when you are able to see clearly, able to see by faith, then bad things wrong things stand out and … look bad. Well, that is what happens to Daniel. And what he sees overwhelms him. In the last verse of the passage, Daniel says he is “overcome and lay sick for some days.” What he saw sickened him! What he saw made him sick to his stomach!

Does that ever happen to you?

Wednesday night as I watched ESPN footage of Penn State’s students reacting with violence and rioting, I felt like Daniel. I, Josh, was overcome and lay sick.

Now, I do not know near enough of the details concerning who did what in that stuff. But I do know that when many young boys are being sexually abused it makes me sick. And when I hear about it, there are a few different ways to react. None of them are to get in the streets and riot. None of them are talking about football.

The very thought of it is sickening. The reactions were sickening. I was sickened by it.

May we be more like Daniel… when we see and/or hear of evil and sin, we are sickened by it.

God give us sharp sensitivity to the Spirit’s conviction!

act like men

Did you know that statement is from God’s Word?

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” -1 Corinthians 16:13

There is a place for it! Men need to be men!

  • Be a man with conviction.
  • Be honest.
  • Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  • Love your wife.
  • Spend time with your kids.
  • Work hard.
  • Work a lot.
  • Don’t be lazy.
  • Don’t complain.
  • Don’t make excuses.

There are certainly many, many more ways to “act like men.” But its time to. ACT LIKE MEN! God tells us that in His word.

a beard

No-shave-November has officially begun! (I do not plan for it to last long. It already itches so badly.)

Psalm 133:1-2 says “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down the collar on the robes.”

Augustine commenting on this verse said: “The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigourous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.”

As a great friend and brother just reminded me– “Beards are more serious than no-shave November, my friend.”

Yes, they are!

“it was in the hand of the Father…”

This past Sunday I preached on the last passage in Luke 8. The passage that has Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter and also healing the woman who was bleeding. You can hear the sermon here.

In verses 54-55, Dr. Luke writes “But taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘child, arise.’ And her spirit returned, and she got up at once.”

The idea and the details of ‘her spirit returned’ are fascinating and glorious. Think about that for a bit!

Commenting on this statement, Matthew Henry said:

“This proves that our souls exist and act in a state of separation from the body, and therefore are immortal, that death does not extinguish the candle of the Lord, but takes it out of  a dark lantern. It is not, as Grotius observes, the temperament of the body, or anything that dies with it; but something that subsists by itself, which, after death, is somewhere else than where the body is. Where the soul of the child was in the interval we are not told. It was in the hand of the Father of spirits, to whom all souls at death return.”

a complete reversal

Sunday I preached from Luke 8:26-39. You can listen to it here.

Darrel Bock commenting on how much the demon-possessed man had changed.

“In a complete reversal of the previously possessed man’s demeanor, he is now clothed, whereas before he had been naked; he is now seated, whereas before he had been roaming; he is now associated with others as he sits at Jesus’ feet, whereas before he sought solitude; he is now of sound mind, whereas before he had been crying out in a loud voice; he is now comfortable in the presence of Jesus, whereas before he wanted nothing to do with him.”

God’s re-creating work in a person is so beautiful!